By Eric Peterson | Mar 20, 2023
Salt Lake City, Utah
Robotic mobility devices
The founder of Coupons.com, Boal was introduced to Matia Mobility's technology by way of a Gizmodo post in 2012. "I stumbled across a video of a hand-built device," says Boal. "I was fascinated by the video."
He emailed founder and CTO Necati Hacikadiroğlu in Turkey. "I said, 'This is amazing. Do you need some help bringing this to market?'"
The video had gone viral, so Boal wasn't the only one knocking on the startup's door. "They had gotten 1,000 emails that day," he says. "They wrote back to only one."
Boal's connection with Coupons.com led to the response. He subsequently flew to Germany to meet the founders at a trade show. The meeting was marked by the arrival of an interested patient, a paraplegic woman in a wheelchair, who tried the device. "As she stood, her face changed -- a dramatic change in her demeanor," says Boal. "We saw immediately how life-changing this technology could be for someone."
Boal told her that he would buy her the first one that came off of the line if he ended up going into business with Hacikadiroğlu. About five years later, he did just that. "The first device that came off, serial number 1, we gave to her," says Boal.
The FDA-approved device, the Tek RMD (short for Robotic Mobilization Device), first hit the market in 2015. Boal says it's markedly different from other mobility devices. "Number one, you're never more than two inches from your normal standing height. You're not artificially high or low. If you have control of your bodily functions, you can use a toilet on your own. . . . There is no equipment in front of you more than a couple of inches. You can be proximate with people as if you were not in a device."
The remote control is another differentiator. "You can put it out of sight and out of mind and not need an aid to bring it to you in the morning," notes Boal. "You don't even need to retrofit your home. You don't need to lower cabinets, you don't need to widen doors, you don't have to do electric or plumbing -- all you need is a ramp."
The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $23,999. "It's the lowest-cost product on the market in its class," says Boal. "There's nothing that competes."
Matia Mobility manufactures at a 18,000-square-foot facility near Salt Lake City International Airport. "We looked at Detroit, we looked at Salt Lake, we looked in Texas," says Boal.
Utah emerged as the winner based on transportation logistics and the labor force. "We just felt Utah was the best pick for us all the way around: location, people, quality of the environment, access to labor pool. It's been terrific. It's easily been the right choice."
Made at an R&D facility in Turkey, subassemblies "are delivered to Salt Lake, where the ultimate manufacturing takes place," says Boal. "The FDA facility of record is in Salt Lake."
COVID-19 proved a stumbling block, but production has since recovered to pre-pandemic levels. "Here we are, post-COVID, and the business is back in shape again," says Boal. "Now that COVID's behind us, we're building an inside sales organization."
As it scales, Matia Mobility is harnessing more than just manufacturing and engineering acumen, he adds. "I've never seen a team this passionate about what they do. Every device that goes out has a name associated with it, not just a serial number. They know who it's being built for, where it's going. They come to work every day knowing they're changing people's lives. It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever worked on."
Challenges: "There's no such thing as a free lunch -- everything is hard work -- but all of the supply chain, the manufacturing, the componentry, everything is done," says Boal.
The top task as of early 2023 is scaling the company. "We just started building out our national sales organization," he says. "The challenge for us is just managing the growth."
Opportunities: Matia Mobility's market involves "hundreds of thousands" of new patients in the U.S. annually, Boal says, and he expects insurers covering standing mobility devices in 2023. "The market really is quite large. The big breakthrough for us came in 2002, when the Veterans Administration started buying for us."
Needs: "We've done a design for use, but we haven't done a design for manufacture of the product, which would lower our bill of materials," says Boal.
The company is also looking for investors, he adds, with a target of $10 million to $20 million. "We're going to raise some growth equity, and that is just to drive the sales engine of the business. Everything else is in place."